Senator LUDLAM-Thank you. There are three issues that I would like to raise-probably all of them I have raised with you before. If we could start with cybersafety. In May 2008, the government announced that it would spend $49 million over four years under the cybersafety plan, which would result in 91 additional AFP officers working in online child protection by 2011. So we are two-thirds of the way there. Can you tell us how many additional officers have been employed to date to work on online child safety since this announcement?
Mr Negus-I will just have my officers look for the actual figures, but I can tell you that there has been a significant commitment to meeting that requirement. Certainly, our online cybersafety and child protection area is one of the most effective units in the AFP and has made a significant number of arrests in that environment over recent years, but I will have the number for you very shortly.
Senator LUDLAM-That is great. I will just move through these questions until you are ready to table that material. In that light, I am interested to know how many investigatory officers were assigned to the online child exploitation task force for the financial years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Mr Negus-I have just been handed something, so if you could just give me two seconds I will have a look. As of 1 October 2010 there were 91 officers, including 56 under the coordinator of high-tech crime and child protection operations, committed to child protection operations more broadly. So, just to be clear on that, 91 officers have actually been assigned to those responsibilities, as you articulated in your opening. Ninetyone of them have been placed in that area. Fifty-six of those come under-and this is more of an internal thing-the coordinator of high-tech crime and child operations. The others would have been more broadly spread through the child protection area within high-tech crime. So there are 91 there, as was foreshadowed.
Senator LUDLAM-Where are they all based? Are they all here or are they distributed throughout the states and territories?
Mr Negus-There is a large number here in the ACT, in our headquarters, but they are dispersed through the states and territories as well.
Senator LUDLAM-Is there somebody with those responsibilities in each state and territory?
Mr Negus-There are child protection teams which come under our broad investigations area, but they are assigned those responsibilities.
Senator LUDLAM-I am specifically interested in the online child sexual exploitation portfolio, if you will. Is there somebody from the AFP with those specific responsibilities in each state and territory?
Mr Negus-Yes, there is. The way our structure works is that we are coordinated from Canberra but each of our investigative functions has a responsibility in each of those states. So there are people who report functionally back to Canberra but perform those duties in each of those states.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay. Do they work directly with the state and territory police departments and their relevant communities?
Mr Negus-They do-not directly as in a joint operational team every day, but certainly there is a large degree of interaction between them. And I know that up in Queensland there has been a particularly significant joint effort against child protection operations.
Senator LUDLAM-It has been put to us, I think actually by some former AFP officers who were with the high-tech crime unit in the media, that we could do with a much higher degree of collaboration between the state and territory forces. So obviously the expertise is based out here but that is really quite uneven. So Queensland maybe, as you say, have gone a long way in that regard. Maybe some of the other states and territories are lagging. What have you got in mind, or is there anything in process at the moment, to improve collaboration with the states and territories?
Mr Negus-One of our key strategic principles for the AFP is to improve our stakeholder relationships and work more effectively with our partner agencies. I know there is a lot of work being done, particularly in the high-tech crime space, to make sure that we are leveraging off the capabilities that do exist in the states and territories. Certainly if there are opportunities for those things to be done the AFP will be the first one to the table to make that happen. There have been issues over the years of different capability developing in different areas. The AFP is trying to take a national and international coordination role in this area and certainly bring our state and territory colleagues to the table in a much more coordinated way. As you would be aware, we do receive referrals from overseas quite regularly in these areas where people are identified accessing international websites in that online environment. We triage most of that material and we do work then with the states and territories for them to investigate components of that because it would not be capable of being done just by the AFP. So there is a level of cooperation and certainly where we can we work effectively with them in that environment. We can always do more and we are working towards that.
Senator LUDLAM-So, for example, what was raised with me was the instance of a parent or somebody ringing the local police department to report something that their kids found online and then the local police department not necessarily having the expertise or the capability to know what to do with it. Is there any initiative that you guys can point us to now where you are moving to take some kind of a national presence at that front end or will that be left to local state and territory departments?
Mr Negus-As a group of commissioners we do talk about this area. It is not surprising that perhaps the odd front-office constable working in a location might not be as au fait with the broader sort of national procedures as might otherwise be, but we are working to make sure that all of our forces know what to do when this occurs. We are certainly working in the online environment to have ‘report abuse buttons' available where people can actually hit a button on screen which translates directly to the AFP and we can triage that material and send it out to the appropriate area. Upskilling all police across the country is something I know all my fellow commissioners are very much aware of, and we need to make sure that we do that for the future because it is a real issue.
Senator LUDLAM-Well, a one-stop shop, whether it is a button or some kind of console or something, that is what I mean.
Mr Negus-We do have a number of national working parties which the AFP is involved in as well. This is taking on board the particular areas of expertise within the states and territories. We get together with those people and look at ways of going forward. Certainly the head of our high-tech crime area is here sitting in the back and I am sure he will take that on board as an example of perhaps what we might be able to do. I have just been told there is a child protection committee, a national one, which the AFP sits on, again working towards fixing these issues. It is an escalating problem, as you have identified. We do have one of our officers embedded with the Western Australia Police, for example, to work in that team to again create better linkages between the two. We do work with the other states and territories certainly on a needs basis operationally. As I said, if there are any opportunities the AFP will be the first one to the table to commit resources to working collaboratively.
Senator LUDLAM-Where does that committee sit? Under whose auspices is that?
Mr Negus-It comes under what is known as the ANZPSA group, which is the Australia and New Zealand Policing Support Agency, and it is chaired by the Western Australia Police but has representatives from all of the states and territories and the AFP on it.
Senator LUDLAM-On the instance that you referred to before that you might be referred traffic-if I understand you correctly-originating in Australia, which is people potentially located in Australia hitting
websites overseas, how common is it that are you getting those kinds of referrals and what are your powers to trace where that material is originating from or who is receiving it?
Mr Negus-It is a fairly regular occurrence, unfortunately. You would have read in the papers and in releases we put out about large rings of paedophiles or large rings of exploitation material that we do take down. The powers are subject to, and depend on, where the product originates from. Some are more difficult than others, but we work through issues such as mutual legal assistance and those sorts of practices, work with our partners overseas, particularly the FBI-we have a very strong relationship with them-but the normal constraints about international presentation of evidence and those sorts of things apply.
We are working in a strategic alliance group with the FBI to look at better ways of speeding up that mutual legal assistance process, and I have spoken to the secretary of Attorney-General's Department about that. So
there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes looking at some of the problems as they arise to make sure that we are on the front foot trying to actually fix them, whether that be through better cooperation or looking at proposing legislative change or other amendments that might need to be made.
Senator LUDLAM-Thank you. It looks as though you have reached the figure of 91 a year early. Are you still recruiting or will that now plateau-that is, the number of officers employed?
Mr Negus-Through a range of different internal mechanisms, we have managed to squeeze a few more staff out of our budget envelope and we have a few more staff than we thought we might actually have. So we have met our target there early. That will be a matter of ongoing judgement about where those extra resources need to be placed and as they come through the recruitment college we have an operational committee that looks at the needs of what is coming through the door. I should say in some instances where there are major operations where we might execute 10, 20 or 30 warrants all at the same time and internationally coordinate those, a lot more people than 91 will be involved in that process and we draw them from other parts of the business to actually go through that operational phase and then they return back to their normal business units.
Senator LUDLAM-But the investigators would be drawn from the-
Mr Negus-The investigators would be drawn from there, yes.
Senator LUDLAM-In terms of the increased funding and staffing levels, has that led to a noticeable or documented change in the level of prosecution for these kinds of offences?
Mr Negus-We would have to take it on notice to give you figures, but I think at the last estimates I spoke about more than 300 people being prosecuted for those sorts of offences, and I am sure that has gone up since then. It is a simple task. With more staff available to investigate these offences, more prosecutions are undertaken. We are trying to take a national coordination role in this in that we do not do everything ourselves because we physically cannot. We need to engage the states and territories to help us out. So many of these things are a national effort and arrests made in Queensland or Victoria by the state police there may well have been coordinated through here but then go on to the statistical sheets, if you like, of those particular police forces.
Senator LUDLAM-Maybe I will just look forward to anything that you are able to table that will-
Mr Negus-I should have mentioned it before, but one of the things that we are very proud of is that we have been part of a thing called the Virtual Global Taskforce, which is a group of seven countries committed to fighting child abuse across the world; and places like the UK and the US are involved in this as well. We have just been elected as the chair of that group and Neil Gaughan, who is sitting behind me, will take over that international role as the chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce. A range of cybersafety programs such as Think U Know, which the Minister for Home Affairs launched during the last year, have all emanated from that group. I think it is a really positive message about the way Australia is taking this seriously in that some of the innovative things that we are doing in that space have been recognised and we have been given the responsibility to chair that group.
Senator LUDLAM-Maybe come February we might ask Mr Gaughan to come to the table and report directly on what has happened.
Mr Negus-I have had a couple of figures just given to me now. From August 2005 to 1 October 2010, 609 offenders have been charged with 837 online child sex offences. Some 95 offenders have been charged with 151 online child sex offences between October 2009 and 30 September 2010. So in the last 12 months there have been 95 offenders with 151 online child sex offences.
Senator LUDLAM-Thanks very much for fishing that out so quickly.